By Polly Keary, Editor
Monroe Firefighter Pat Gjerde takes a deep breath before talking about the crash that led him and his firefighting partner Kurt Schneider to take action against unsafe driving among teens.
“There were two carloads of kids driving down Lake Fontal Road,” he said slowly. “The last one lost control and rolled.”
The driver was killed, and Gjerde asked that the details not be recounted in the paper. But they were traumatic for everyone involved in the crash on that dark, rainy night.
“It was horrible,” he said. “That was the one where we said, ‘this has got to stop. We need to do something.’”
That something turned out to be taking the teen safe driving program “Think Again” into Monroe High School in the weeks before prom, and last week they returned to the school for the fourth year in row to deliver the message they believe has contributed to a drop in teen accidents in recent years.
Schneider credits former Monroe Fire Department Public Information Officer Richelle Risdon with helping them find the program.
“She tracked it down,” said Schneider. “We took the training, and we focused it for Monroe High School and we’ve been doing it for four years. And since then, we haven’t noticed any bad teen crashes, at least from Monroe High School students.”
The program is a project of Allstate Insurance and includes a lot of sobering information.
The number-one killer of teens is car crashes in vehicles driven by teens, and 3,000 teens a year, equivalent to 60 in each state, die in cars annually.
Per mile, teens are four times likelier to die in cars than older drivers.
Teens seem to have a mistaken belief that if they aren’t drinking, they are safe; 40 percent of teens think alcohol is a factor in most teen-involved crashes, but in reality, alcohol is a factor in just 25 percent of teen-involved vehicle fatalities.
And avoiding high speed is no guarantee of safety.
“Most fatal crashes are below 45 miles per hour, in close proximity to home,” said Schneider.
And the firefighters also come with pictures of crashes around the nation that involved teens.
Gjerde and Schneider established a strategy of presenting the information to the junior class each year.
“We were going with the CDC (Center for Disease Control) numbers, and they say there is a huge number of fatalities between the ages of 16 and 19,” said Schneider. “We figured we might as well address it at 16.”
Now the two are adding information about texting and driving.
“Some kids have said, ‘I didn’t know texting was as dangerous or more dangerous than drinking and driving; I won’t do it any more,’” said Schneider.
The program has proven so effective that the school district has started scheduling it every year before prom, which this year is May 18.